Paro (alt. 2200m/7218ft) - The beautiful
valley of Paro encapsulates within itself a rich culture, scenic beauty
and hundreds of myths and legends. It is home to many of Bhutan's oldest
temples and monasteries, National Museum and country's only airport.
Mount. Chomolhari (7,314m) reigns in white glory at the northern end of
the valley and its glacial water plunge through deep gorges to form Pa
Chhu (Paro river). Paro is also one of the most fertile valley in the
Kingdom producing a bulk of the locally famous red rice from its
Places of interest in and around Paro
Built in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal , the first
and temporal ruler of Bhutan, the Dzong houses the monastic body of
Paro, the office of the Dzongda (district administrative head) and
Thrimpon (judge) of Paro district. The approach to the Dzong is through
a traditional covered bridge called Nemi Zam. A walk through the bridge,
over a stone inlaid path, offers a good view of the architectural wonder
of the Dzong as well as life around it. It is also the venue of Paro
Tshechu, held once a year in the spring.
One time watch tower built to defend Rinpung Dozng during inter-valley
wars of the 17th century, since 1967 Ta Dzong is serving as the National
Museum of the country. It holds fascinating collection of art, relics,
religious thangkha paintings and Bhutan's exquisite postage stamps. The
museum circular shape augments its varied collection displayed over
This Dzong, with a delightful village nestling at its foot, was built
in 1646 by Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal to commemorate his victory over the
Tibetan invaders. Historically and strategically this Dzong withstood
all its glory and was featured in 1914 vide National Geographic
magazine. The glory of Drukgyel Dzong remained even when its was
destroyed by fire in 1951. On a clear day, one can see the commanding
view of Mount. Chomolhari from the village, below the Dzong.
It is one of the oldest and most sacred shrines of the Kingdom dating
back to 7th century (the other is Jambey Lhakahng in Bumthang). The
lhakhang complex is composed of two temples. The first temple was built
by Tibetan King, Songtsen Gampo in the 7th century and in 1968, H.M.
Ashi Kesang, the Queen Mother of Bhutan, built the second temple in
Farm House (traditional village house)
The beauty of Paro valley is embellished by cluster of quaint farm
houses. Bhutanese farm houses are very colorful, decorative and
traditionally built without the use of single nail. All houses follow
the same architectural pattern. A visit to Farm House is very
interesting and offers a good glimpse into the lifestyle of a farmer.
Built in 1525, this town temple was formed by Ngawang Chhogyel, one of
the prince-abbots of Ralung in Tibet and an ancestor of the Shabdrung
To the west of the road is Dungtse Lhakhang, a chorten-like temple.
This unusual building was built in 1433 by the iron bridge builder
Thangtong Gyalpo. It has three floors representing hell, earth and
heaven and the paintings inside are said to be some of the best in
Beyond Dungtse Lhakhang, to the east of the road, the tiny Pana
Lhakhang is quite old and is believed to have been built in the seventh
Ugyen Pelri Palace
Ugyen Pelri Palace is in a secluded wooded compound on the south side
of the river just west of the Dzong. This Palace was built by the Paro
Penlop, Tsering Penjor, in the early 1900s. It is designed after Guru
Rinpoche's celestial paradise, Zangto Pelri, and is one of the most
beautiful examples of Bhutanese architecture.
Located behind Paro Dzong, this small temple is home to a magnificent
statue of Sakyamuni Buddha that was carried all the way from Lhasa and
also houses the protector deity of Paro. Legend has it that the statue
of Sakyamuni was destined for Paro Dzong and merely placed in the temple
for overnight safe keeping. However, when the time came to move the
statue, it proved impossible to lift. As a result, it became a permanent
feature of the lhakhang.
Taktshang Lhakhang (Tiger's Nest)
It is one of the most famous of Bhutan's monasteries,
on the side of a cliff 900m above the Paro valley floor. It is said that
Guru Rinpoche arrived here on the back of a tigress and meditated at
this monastery and hence it is called "Tiger's Nest". This
site has been recognized as a most sacred place and visited by Shabdrung
Ngawang Namgyal in 1646 and now visited by all Bhutanese at least once
in their lifetime. On 19 April, 1998, a fire severely damaged the main
structure of building but now this Bhutanese jewel has been restored to
its original splendour.
Excursions around Paro Valley
Start the day early for drive to Haa via Chele-la pass. 4 Km away at
Bondey village the road to Haa diverts towards the right hand side and
ascends towards the chele-la pass starts. After driving through blue
pine & rhododendron forest for 45 km, reach Chele-la pass ( 4200
meters). From this point one can have a superb views of Mt. Chomolhari &
Jichu Drakey. This is a very good place to walk around for few minutes
enjoying the view. Drive on to Haa, descending all the way for another
22 km (under an hours drive), finally reaching Haa. The Haa Dzong is
presently occupied by military, but the view from outside is stunning.
After picnic lunch visit to the famous Monastery of Lhakhang Karpo
(White Temple) followed by visit to Lhakhang Nagpo (Black Temple).
The central shrine in Lhakhang Nagpo is said to have no difference with
that of Lhasa JOWO in Tibet. The construction of the Lakhang Karpo is
believed to have been assisted by the locality. As a result the place
came to be locally known as "Hay" meaning" surprise"
which later became "Haa" due to the differences in
interpretations and pronunciations of different people over time.
The three giant hills looming over the fringes of Haa valley were
called "Me Rig Puen Sum" especially after the incidence of the
Lhakhang Karpo construction. Today the three hills are popularly known
as "Rig Sum Goenpa" signifying three deities-Jambayang Chana
Dorji and Chenrizig.
Later, other Buddhist saints like Guru Rinpoche and "Machi Labdorn"
came to the Jungney Drag in Haa and blessed the locality. The principal
religion followed is Drukpa Kagyupa. After the arrival of Shabdrung
Ngawang Namgyel, the chief guardian deity of Haa became, Ap Chundu.
Later in the afternoon drive to Paro same way back. The drive will be
under 3 hours.
It is the serene home of Buddhist nuns who have dedicated their life
for spiritual fulfillment and leading undisturbed life of religious
studies, prayer and meditation. The goemba is nestled in a craggy patch
on mountain side below the Chelela pass and perched precariously along
the rock face. From Chelela pass, the lhakhang is about an hour walk
amidst magnificent wooded area.
Chele la (pass), at an elevation 3,988 meters is considered to be one
of the highest motorable passes in Bhutan. About an hour's drive along a
thickly-forested road, is this Pass-a botanical paradise. The pass
provides stunning views of the sacred mountain Jomolhari and Jichu
Drake. It is also marked by hundreds of prayer flags fluttering in the
wind. Here, visitors can see cascades of wild roses; purple and yellow
primulas; and swathes of deep blue iris covering the forest floor. The
top of the pass bloom with rhododendrons in a variety of colours-pale
pink, deep pink, burnt orange, mauve, white and scarlet.
Often called as mini Takstang, Dzongdrakha is a cliff-side temple complex on the western side of the Paro Valley. Four shrines make up the complex, dedicated to Drolma (Tara), Tsheringma (Goddess of Longevity), Guru Rinpoche and the Buddha of the Future, Maitreya. Local oral tradition states that when Guru Rinpoche first came to Bhutan, he came from Nepal, first landing at Drakarpo, and then Dzongdrakha before arriving at Taktshang (Tiger's Nest) farther north up the valley. Located approx 20 minute drive from Paro, these temples are built on a cliff above Bondey village but the walk is not as strenuous as Taktshang. From the road, it take only about 30 minutes walk to reach here, through forests of rhododendron and oak trees with white monkeys on it. Dzongdrakha also hosts an annual Tshechu (festival) that takes place the day before and the day after the larger Paro Tshechu held at Rinpung Dzong near the main town. During the festival at Dzongdrakha, one of the main blessings takes place when the chorten (stupa) of the past Buddha is opened so that attendees are blessed by the relic held within. The Dzongdrakha village has numerous temples and is known for most of their men being either fully ordained monks or gomchens (lay monks who don’t take vows of celibacy). Ironically it is the women who work in the fields and are the bread earners unlike in any other part of the country.
Sangchen Choekhor Buddhist Institute
High above the north bank of Paro Chhu river, Sangchen Choekhor Buddhist Institute commands fascinating view of Paro valley below. Located on the top of the hill north west of Paro town and about 12 km (7 miles) from city centre, Sangchen Choekhor is picturesquely situated. This beautifully located temple is home to community of about 100 monks who study here Buddhist philosophy. Sangchen Choekhor was originally built in 18th century but later rebuilt after damage due to massive fire. The original temple was built by the first speech reincarnation of Zhabdrung Ngawang Namgyal. The lower altar room has a striking statue of Guru Rinpoche and unique 30-year old wall paintings created under the supervision of the Chief Abbot. The upper altar room is dedicated to the Zhabdrung lineage. While the monastery is of particular interest to Buddhist scholars however people also visit it to enjoy fascinating valley view below, with road access brining it within reach of travelers.
Chumbu Lhakhang (Chumphug Lhakhang).
Chumphug is situated at about 3100m, on a steep mountain slope. It is one of the most sacred pilgrimage places in the Himalayas. With its towering cliffs and waterfalls, it revered as a Second Pemako, in reference to Padmasambhava’s "Hidden Land", situated along Tsangpo gorge in remote part of Aurunachal Pradesh.
Guru Padmasabhava is said to have mediated in Chumphug for about 3 months in 8th century. There are numerous caves associated with Guru. Many important Buddhist masters said to have followed the footsteps of Guru and mediated here. Among other, many Bhutanese teachers such as Terton Drukdra Dorji, Jey Shakya Rinchen, Jey Yonten Thaye, Jey Kuenga Gyeltsen said to have spent time here. The main relic in the temple is self-arisen image of Vajravarahi or Dorji Phagmo, a form of Varja Yogini, the highest female tutelary deity in Himalayan Buddhism. There are lots of unusual shaped rocks and imprint of Guru Rimpoche in the area. 12 young monks headed by one teacher and Lama is in residence here.
From Paro town, it is about 45minutes drive on the farm road, on side valley, following Dochu river, which flows into Pachu. From the road head, it is about 3 hours trek through dense oak, conifer and bamboo forests. First two hours hike is a gentle gradual ascend, crossing rivers few times and well maintained small wooden bridges. The final 45 minutes trek is a steep ascend to reach the main temple. Along the way, one can make de-tour, visiting caves and waterfalls.